Monday, August 8, 2016

Sacrifice redefined - interview with Michelle Cox, author of A Girl Like You

Greetings, commies, libbies, femmies and book lovers! 
Today's guest is a fellow historical novelist, Michelle Cox, author of an acclaimed romantic mystery A Girl Like You. I have been following her blog featuring extraordinary stories of ordinary Chicago people, immigrants, day laborers, aspiring entrepreneurs. Today she joins us for a thorough and candid discussion about her book and the definition of self-sacrifice and gender roles during the Great Depression. She also opens up about her experience with her publisher She Writes.

MJN: Your blog, which I have been following religiously, features stories of sacrifice, sometimes eager and sometimes begrudging. Here is the recurring scenario: a girl leaves school to get a job to support her family; then she gets married and leaves the workforce to care for her husband and kids, sometimes stepkids. To a 21st century woman that sounds absurd. 

MC: You are re so right—to a 21st century woman, it does sound absurd, but that is definitely what happened back then.  What I find amazing is that most of the women I’ve featured in my blog (besides one or two exceptions) did not feel fulfilled until they took on the role of housewife.  Even if you don’t bring motherhood into it, they all seemed to feel that if they weren’t actively making a home for a husband, they were somehow a failure, no matter what their job or career was.  So when they did marry, they were often very willing to give up a job because being a housewife was the number one achievement.  Perhaps that concept existed because as a housewife, they might have at least a little bit of control over the running of a household; the alternative was to remain a spinster, living with her parents under their rules with very few social outlets (no weekend affairs or casual boyfriends!) and eventually becoming their caretaker.

MJN: The background scenario in your novel A Girl Like You also revolves around the theme of sacrifice. Your protagonist Henrietta is stuck caring for her bitter mother and younger siblings after her father commits suicide following the stock market crash. When Henrietta gets involved in a murder investigation, I imagine, for her it's a welcome reprieve from the routine of catering to her toxic family's needs. Henrietta is vulnerable, because she is looking for an emotional outlet, for that adrenaline rush. It's a miracle that she doesn't fall into a trap. 

MC: Yes, Henrietta does shoulder a lot of responsibility, knowing that she’s the breadwinner of the family.  At heart she is very pure, though she’s seen a lot of the seedier side of life, and, yes, she is quite vulnerable.  She wishes to be a “good” girl, but unfortunately, because of her extreme beauty, mixed with her poverty, risqué jobs seem to find their way to her.  Fortunately, as in all fairy/folk tale fiction, Henrietta has several “protectors” along the way.  These would be Stanley, the love-struck neighborhood boy that follows her around; Mr. Hennessey, her pseudo-father figure; and Lucy and the lesbian gang at the Marlowe who take Henrietta under their wing.  And the, of course, we have the inspector himself who starts out as her ultimate protector but becomes emotionally entangled, thereby making him the very person she perhaps needs protecting from the most.  It makes her decision about what to do with him the real test of her virtue, not what happens between her and the killer.  So she does sort of fall into a trap, just not the one the reader is expecting.

MJN: Every large city has an "underbelly" and an underground world that many respectable citizens know little about - or pretend they know little about. There are some parts that reputable young ladies just don't go into. You can sit in your ivory tower and be totally oblivious to the sewer running right beneath it. 

MC: Yes, Henrietta, for all her experience, is still a bit naïve to the true grimness of the city around her.  Her poverty has forced her to live in this underbelly, and yet in true fairy/folk tradition, she remains untouched by it.  There’s a little bit of Dickens here, if I might be so bold as to make that comparison.  Henrietta is a Little Dorrit-type, who, as I said in the previous question, has many protectors to help shield her.  In fact, Stanley is a bit reminiscent of John Chivery, the turnkey’s son, and of course, Inspector Clive Howard has a flavor of Arthur Clennam to him—disinterested kindness that perhaps turns to love? 

MJN: Your novel contains the elements of mystery, social criticism and romance. Does any of the elements prevail to put the novel in a particular genre? Is it a romantic mystery or a detective romance? 

MC: Well, that seems to be the million dollar question!  I’d like to say that it’s historical fiction with a mystery and romance aspect.  A Girl Like You is the most “mystery” of the books in this series.   The next two in the series I’m calling Romantic Suspense, but who knows how the fourth will come out?  I guess there’s a little bit of genre-blending going on, which is why it’s safer to just call them historical fiction!

MJN: Tell us about your experience with She Writes and the benefits / challenges of going with the model known as "curated self-publishing". Based on the number of positive reviews, it sounds like the publisher helped you with editing and marketing.

MC: Wow!  Big question.  She Writes Press is a hybrid publisher, which is something relatively new on the publishing landscape.  They operate very much like a traditional publisher in that they vet and distribute traditionally through Ingram Publishing Services.  Those two things are huge! The difference is that you pay an upfront fee, but that includes your cover, editing, proofing, interior design, managing your metadata, uploading across all online channels and distribution.  You also have to pay for your print run, which can be either POD or off-set, depending.  But besides all these services, you maintain complete control of your project (which is huge when compared to traditional publishing); receive a higher percentage of the royalties (60%); and maintain all rights, including film, foreign and audio.  It’s a great set-up, really.  It’s all about the author and the publisher truly being partners in getting your book out there.  It’s a model that is growing and is expected to take over more and more of the publishing space because the Big 5 is operating on an out-dated model they can no longer sustain.  Self-publishing has its limitations as well, the biggest one being selling into the marketplace.  Hybrids offer a unique third way.

In terms of marketing, all authors are on their own, really.  Even most of the authors signed by the Big 5 have to come up with their own marketing plan.  It’s ironic that most of the marketing budget at the Big 5 goes to the giants, as if they need any more PR!  So, yes, as a hybrid author, I’m responsible for my own marketing.  Besides working with other She Writes writers on a private forum in which we trade ideas, network, and offer suggestions and support, I have hired a publicity firm, Booksparks, which has handled my campaign very well, I think.  They’ve gotten me some great reviews in the trades and a lot of great press.  

About the author:

Michelle Cox holds a B.A. in English literature from Mundelein College, Chicago, and is the author of the award-winning, A Girl Like You, the first in the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series. She is known for her wildly popular blog, “How to Get Your Book Published in 7,000 Easy Steps—A Practical Guide” as well as her charming “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” a blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents. Michelle lives with her husband and three children in the Chicago suburbs. 

A Girl Like You has received two starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist and placed as a Finalist in Romance in the 2016 Next Gen Awards. It has also been listed as a top spring read by Your Tango, Popsugar, Culturist, and Buzzfeed and is currently enjoying its second print run. Book two of the series, A Ring Of Truth, will be released April 2017.

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